Since there was no script available for Alex Garland’s Men, I decided to go to the theater and watch the film for myself and then share my thoughts with you lovely people.
Partially, I did this because I was excited to see the film, as I really love Mr. Garland’s previous work, but, to be completely honest, I also had a free movie ticket that I needed to use.
Normally, I would rush out to see a horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, but there were a few things about this one that gave me a bit of pause.
First, it is an A24 release. Now, I do applaud A24 for taking risks and supporting strange, wild projects, but I also have been let down by many of their recent releases.
But, in truth, they have released some great films that I’ve loved in recent years, such as:
The Death of Dick Long (A Coen-Brothers Crime / Comedy if it were written by Seth Rogen)
The Disaster Artist
To name just a few.
However, for every hit they release, they have plenty of misses as well.
I won’t get into which of their films I wasn’t a fan of, but you can check out my recent review of X (2022) which is an A24 release that I thought really missed the mark.
Secondly, the film is already quite divisive, which is not necessarily a strike against the film, but I was worried about some of the specific criticisms.
Namely, to quote K. Austin Collins from Rolling Stone “Too much is spent reiterating certain gore-ish thrills and slick political points…”
I think horror is a wonderful medium to explore deep themes and examine the failings of our modern society. A great horror film can achieve this with subtlety and nuance… but lesser films feel the need to bash you over the head with their messages and themes.
And, personally, I have enough horror coming at me from the daily news outlets I follow, so I don’t need to spend an hour and a half with a film bluntly stating: Hey, people suck.
And yet, with all of this in mind, my free movie ticket and I ventured out into the storm to review the film Men.
So, what did I think?
Lots of things, it turns out, but I want to give you a quick idea of what the film is about before jumping into what worked and what needed work.
The logline for the film reads, as per IMDB:
A young woman goes on a solo vacation to the English countryside following the death of her ex-husband.
There are some positives about this logline, but I have a couple of comments about it, as well.
I do like that it is short and gets right to the point. It also introduces our main character and our main internal and emotional conflict.
My issue, however, is that it does not hint at the horror elements, nor does it really do anything to engage me or draw me in.
The description on Rotten Tomatoes reads as such:
In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to have found a place to heal. But someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread becomes a fully-formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears in visionary filmmaker Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina, Annihilation) feverish, shape-shifting new horror film.
This is OK, but it is far too long for a logline.
What I would recommend is combining both of these in a short, sweet, and engaging way.
A young woman escapes to the English countryside following the death of her ex-husband, but soon someone, or something, begins to terrorize her, forcing her to face her darkest fears and the truth behind her husband’s death to escape the retreat alive.
This is just my take on the logline, but I would highly recommend that you take some time to rewrite some produced loglines and practice your own logline writing as well.
As you all know, your logline is likely going to be the first (and maybe only) thing that a reader sees when deciding if he or she will pick up your script or not. So, it is certainly a skill worth perfecting so that you can make sure your work gets the attention it deserves!
Now, back to the film!
From a writing perspective, we could not find this script to look at, but another one of Mr. Garland’s scripts that you can find on W2R is a high-concept, contained thriller titled Ex Machina.
The logline for that one is: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I.
With that out of the way, let’s get into what worked and what needed work on Mr. Garland’s most recent release, Men.
Reviewer’s Note #1 – Before I get into my review, I do need to let readers know that, about halfway through my screening of the film, our projector died. The film was already so strange, the audience (by which I mean myself and three other viewers) sat there for a few seconds, thinking the sudden cut to black was part of the project. However, it was not.
If I could travel back in time, I would have gotten up and left right at that point, before the film went totally off-the-rails, but alas, I stayed. More on this later.
The good news is that one of my fellow audience members was related to the theater manager, so she hopped up and went to inform her sister that something had happened.
Then came about 20 minutes of trial and error as they tried to figure out what had gone wrong and remedy the situation. Eventually, they got the film back on screen and we continued as if nothing had happened, but I thought it was important to note, as it did take me out of the experience a little.
Reviewer’s Note #2 – I will try to be fair and honest in the following review, but this film was such a misfire that it bordered on a parody. Almost like something you would see in one of the awful skits in Movie 43 (some consider Movie 43 to be “The Worst Movie of All Time” – but they have not seen Men).
If you have seen Men and want to talk about the laughable, insulting ending, please feel free to comment and we can discuss, but I will stay away from spoilers in this review.
Now, let’s get into the film!
The Atmosphere – Alex Garland is really a master at creating unsettling atmospheres in his films, and this one is no exception.
One of my favorite of his films is Annihilation (2018) which is just dripping with tension and a prevalent sense of unease from the very first moment until the final frame.
For up-and-coming horror and thriller writers and filmmakers, I would recommend studying Mr. Garland’s past work, both in film and television (with the excellent 2020 series Devs).
Pay particular attention to how suspense is built and atmosphere is created, and see if you can emulate that style in your own works to give your scary stories an added boost.
The Unreliable Narrator – I did like that our heroine, played by Jessie Buckley, is an unreliable narrator. We see the story through her eyes, but are left to question what was real, and what was simply a figment of her warped view of the world. This is good, but can be hard to pull off in your own writing, so be careful.
An example of this is when our heroine tells the groundskeeper that she can’t play piano while she is touring the house. Then, a few scenes later, she sits down at the piano and plays a lovely, sad song perfectly.
Little moments like this added to the sense of unease and I was expecting this to play into the ending or provide a twist of some sort. Without going into spoilers, I think another filmmaker could have used the unreliable narrator to make a far more interesting film than what we ended up getting by exploring themes of how men and women can, all-too-often, be awful to one another.
What Needed Work
On-The-Nose – When our heroine first gets to the home she plucks an apple from a tree. Then, the groundskeeper calls her Eve (like the one in the Bible) and jokes that she is bringing misfortune down on everyone.
This scene was just the beginning of a long, excruciating watch in which the viewer is smashed over the head with lazy symbolism while the filmmaker pats himself on the back for being so clever.
I saw a film with a group of friends a few years ago. When the film finished, we all walked over to a nearby restaurant to grab a soda and talk about the film.
One friend, we’ll call him Thor because I want you all to think that I’m cool enough to know someone unironically named Thor, said that he didn’t like the film.
Well, that didn’t sit well with some other friends who tried to explain the film’s message and all of the deep symbolism that Thor had missed.
And Thor let them go, until he shut them all up with:
“No, no, no. I get it. I just hated it.”
Whenever I see a film like this one, I always think of Thor and that moment.
And, I have to admit that after an hour of being smashed over the head with theme, I wanted to shout:
“I get it! I got it an hour ago, and I still get it now!”
The CGI – There is one character in the town, a young boy, that is played by Rory Kinnear’s face CGI’d on a young boy’s body. It looks so terrible, and not in a scary way, but in a laughable, awful way.
They used this same technique on Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger to make “skinny Steve Rogers” back in 2011 and it worked. And yet, over a decade later, and this technique looks worse than ever in Men.
The End – Words cannot describe how silly the ending is. When it was mercifully over, I sat there in the theater waiting for Ashton Kutcher and the Punk’d Team to run out and say “Gotcha“.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the ending to the film Men did.
If nothing else, check out the finale on Youtube when it is inevitably posted and see for yourself. I won’t get into spoilers, but it is first year film school student bad.
Themes – I don’t really want to get into gender politics here, but these are the goalposts that the filmmaker set up. So I do have to say that for a film specifically focused on how women are threatened by men, it is strange that this piece was written and directed by a man.
In fact, it is ironic. Almost like Mr. Garland wants to tell women how they feel around men in general, completely missing his own, heavy-handed point in the process.
Maybe this film would have worked better if a female writer / director had tackled this subject – if nothing else, it certainly would have been more subtle… since there is no way it could have been more in-your-face.
This film was so uniquely terrible that it gets a special designation: AVOID AT ALL COSTS!
Seriously, there is no reason for you or anyone to see this film, unless you want to gather a few friends and sit down to jeer at what is almost certainly 2022’s worst feature.
But what did you think of Men? Do you agree with my assessment? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!
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